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Coast Guard rule change could impact boater traffic, public safety along St. Lucie River

Posted at 5:56 AM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 10:41:15-04

STUART, Fla. — A new rule change by the U.S. Coast Guard could limit the amount of boat traffic allowed through the St. Lucie River and Okeechobee Waterway.

It has to do with drawbridge operating regulations in anticipation of the expansion of passenger trains such as Brightline.

Right now, Stuart Mayor Merritt Matheson said Brightline is testing twenty trains per day in addition to the twelve to fifteen freight trains.

All trains are traveling along the more than 100-year-old railway bridge which is single tracked and only provides six feet of water clearance.

Matheson said the Coast Guard will be creating an official schedule that will help with traffic flow and provide set times for when the drawbridge will be open and closed for marine and rail traffic.

Right now, he said the drawbridge opens on an as needed basis depending on train traffic and is open for about fifteen minutes every hour on average.

He and other city leaders want equal time for marine traffic and on Monday signed a letter to the Coast Guard lobbying for the bridge to remain open for thirty minutes every hour.

"When there is a hurricane bearing down on us, there could be one hundred boats that come from Palm Beach, St. Augustine, depending on the track of that storm, they're coming here, to run over to Fort Myers to get out of the path of the storm," said Matheson.

Matheson said the St. Lucie River and Okeechobee Waterway is the only way for boaters to head east and west across the state without having to detour south around the Florida Keys.

"This is an emergency evacuation route for hurricanes," said Mathson. "This is a direct route for any boat in the Gulf of Mexico that wants to head east."

Matheson said the issue at hand is also one of public safety.

He said Stuart Police, the Martin County Sheriff's Office, and Customs and Border Patrol all dock their boats west of the drawbridge and that this new schedule could impact response times to the ocean.

Matheson said there are ongoing talks with Brightline about the construction of a new drawbridge that would be double tracked and provide more clearance for boats.

He said however at best, the construction of that bridge is more than five years away.

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